Motorists passing school buses raises concern

Published 6:00 am Monday, November 18, 2002

After a number of close calls this year involving motoristspassing stopped school buses, education officials are fearful thata tragedy could tarnish the school year and ruin the lives of thoseinvolved.

“We’ve had quite a number of situations this year. It seems likemore than usual,” said Donald Case, transportation director for theLincoln County School District.

Case pointed out that the district has had such dangeroussituations that they had to press charges on two motorists failingto stop for school buses transporting youngsters.

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The Brookhaven School District has not had to take similarmeasures, but fears it will be necessary to get some motorists’attention.

“It’s a major problem. We have a lot of times where people arepassing school buses even when the lights are flashing and the stoparm is out,” said Gabe Terrell, transportation director for theBrookhaven School District.

The only option for school bus drivers is to shout for thechildren to watch out and try to get the violator’s tag number andvehicle description, said education officials.

They hope the common act of passing and not stopping for schoolbuses will not end in tragedy, such as ones seen in the past.

“If someone is killed, we can’t replace them,” said Terrell.”Children are precious and it’s our job to watch after them. Peopleneed to be extremely cautious.”

During the 2001-2002 school year, Mississippi schools reportedone death, a child in the South Pike School District being killed.The year before a child was killed in Port Gibson and another wasrun over in Marshall County.

Several years ago, two Lincoln County children were killed in acouple of separate incidents on Highway 550.

The most dangerous behavior of motorists around school buses ispassing and not stopping for the buses, which is against state law.The law applies to motorists in front of or behind schoolbuses.

“It’s important for drivers to be careful because you never cantell what kids are going to do,” said Case, mentioning thepossibility of children stopping in the roadway to pick somethingup or turning around in the roadway to retrieve an item they forgoton their bus.

School bus drivers often report people passing school buses ifchildren are going to or coming from a house on the right side ofthe bus, where children do not have to cross the street.

“A lot of people think it’s OK to ease around the bus, but thatcan still be dangerous,” said Case.

Education officials say another problem occurs when motoristsfollow too closely behind school buses, commonly known astailgating, which can result in vehicles crashing into the back ofthe bus.

Motorists should always use extra caution around school busesand be prepared to stop at any time, including at all railroadcrossings.

“School buses are one of the safest forms of transportationbecause of the way buses are built, but where kids get killed is inthe loading and unloading process,” said Case, adding thatmotorists can be killed or seriously injured as well if they runinto a school bus or have to dodge a child while passing a schoolbus.

The fine in the Lincoln County Justice Court for failure to stopfor a school bus is $225.50.